Rescue No. 2

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An early morning rescue
My trusty companion is a 1981 VW Diesel Pickup

The long tow home
On the 210 freeway in LA


I found out about this car in 2001 when I received an email from the new owner telling me what he'd found and asking for advice on where to get parts, how to work on it, etc.
The story on the car was that  It was owned by a High School aged girl in Pasadena, CA who had moved away in 1976 to go to college.  After her parents died, she returned to settle their affairs and found her car still in their garage.
My guess is that the car just bopped around the Pasadena area for the 6 years of it's life with her.  It appears to always have been garaged because the interior is just like new, even the plastic chrome trim around the front and back glass is like new in most areas.  

Based on what I found in the engine and in the transmission, I'd say that, like all Austin Americas back in the day, it had a blown headgasket and was probably marginal to drive anywhere without starting to overheat.  They never had that fixed and it probably kept her from taking the car anywhere but around town.  29,600 miles was all they logged in 6 years of driving.

The transmission had never been rebuilt, because I found the early style components inside.  99% of the transmissions appear to have failed and then were updated in the foreward clutch area.  Her's never received the update. 

I think the transmission didn't die when she had it.  The forward clutch plates still had friction material on them, so they should have still grabbed. As an example, the spare transmission that I used to learn on before rebuilding the transmission in this car, had forward clutch plates that were down to bare metal, so I know her transmission was still working when she parked it due to the material still on those forward friction plates.  The reason why it had no forward drive for me was that it had sat for 24 years in dirty engine oil and that had chemically baked all the seals hard until they were hard and split, hence losing fluid pressure. 
The car had been for sale on my website for $1,500.00 for quite a long time.  It had fallen in and out of 2 different buyers plans, over the next couple of years.  Then one day, the owner called me and offered it to me because he needed the space.  He'd previously sent me photos of the car and it looked quite good. 
I decided it would be worth purchasing and made the 3-1/2 hour trip to Upland, CA where the car was. 
I was shocked when I saw it in person.  The photos has shown a car that was polished, clean and shiny.  They also showed only a minor dent in the left lower rear corner and I had been told that the car may have backed into something at some point.  What I found was quite different.  The car had been left outside, probably for over a year. The paint was very dull and that minor dent war really a deal breaker.  The car was totalled.  It had been hit so hard, both of the rear fenders were buckled behind the rear tires.  The lower trunk was pushed about 4" in on the passenger side and the trunk lid was no where near being able to close, let alone latch.  On top of all this, the engine was seized.  Least of all, the suspension was flat and the car was sitting nearly on the ground with the displacer rods for the rear suspension missing. 
We settled on a price, I pumped up the suspension and towed the car home.

The engine, which must have been using coolant due  to the blown head gasket, had been parked with just water in the cooling system.  This had long since evaporated rusting the water pump solid.  The inside of the block was packed full of rust as well.
I removed the cylinder head, radiator and water pump.  The coolant passages inbetween the block and the head were rusted solid.  I had to litterally drill them back out.   I used high pressure water and air to force all of the rust out of the block.
With the head off, I lapped the valves and installed new viton valve stem seals.  Then I dressed the combustion chambers with a die-grinder to improve flow.  Amazingly, the hone marks were still present in all of the cylinders!  I installed a new high flow water pump and high flow engine thermostat along with new coolant hoses and put it all back together. 
It fired right up and ran great.  A new jet tube for the carburetor fixed a running problem and a new coolant temp sensor in the head cured the faulty temp gauge that just wanted to read hot all the time.
When I engaged drive, it would only move in Reverse.   I decided I would remove the engine and rebuild the transmission.   I'd never before worked on one of these AP Automatics and was more than a bit apprehensive about taking it on.
The transmission rebuild turned out fantastic and you can read the details on the "Technical Advice: AP Automatic Transmission" page. 

Head comes off
Rusted coolant passages and blown headgasket between cylinders 2 and 3

Head work finished
All cleaned up and with new viton valve stem seals and freshly lapped valves


Engine Block Needs Attention
Look at how rusted the coolant passages are
All cleaned up
With only 29000 miles the cylinder hone marks are still present


The body was in great shape other than the rear crash damage.  There was only a couple of surface rust spots under the front carpets and they were nothing more than paint that had been liftedThe car was basically rust free.  The body shop repairs to the rear-end turned out very good.  Although not perfect, the paint was a close match and after I buffed out the entire car, it all looked fantastic.
The interior was nearly perfect.  I had a few cuts fixed in the front seats, and the dash recovered.  I installed new carpet and had the headliner professionally repainted because the factory glue had stained through in many places.  I also had the front and back glass seals sealed against the glass and then new chrom lock strip was put in.  A set of new switches finished off the dash, and an extremely rare AMCO Accessory center console finished off the period look.  I also replaced all the of door, rear quarter window and trunk seals.

As found
Certainly left a lot to be desired

Fresh out of the bodyshop
Starting to have some potential


Saving the original headliner
Heavily stained by the 35 year old factory glue but still in tact

After professional repainting
It looks just like brand new and the pattern still shows up perfectly

The floors are just beautiful
America floors do not get any better than this

The trunk floor is equally nice
Hard to find a trunk nicer than this

More posing
This is just the cleanest straightest trunk interior

The engine compartment back in shape
Plenty of cosmetic details left to finish but still looking nice

Back to it's full glory
All polished and ready for the new owner

Rear looks like brand new


With the help of my good friend and fellow Austin America owner Chris Sanchez of Sacramento, CA, I found a new home for the car.   Turns out Chris' friends Kirsten and Allan were in the market for an America.  In all honesty, this is because Chris and Dianne's 1969 Automatic Austin America "Minty" has become famous in the Sacramento area.   Eveybody knows and love's Minty.  In fact, Chris had already helped Allan find one.   With Allen currently putting his America back on the road,  Kirsten wanted one too.
I spent about $3,000 restoring the car and we settled on a price of $3,300.00.  They picked up the car on Friday, February 27, 2004 and had plotted out a great road trip for a return route home to Sacramento.   About 400 miles total:
Day 1 -  Drive from here in San Luis Obispo, 145 miles up the coast along the scenic, hilly, and twisty 2 lane Hwy 1 to Monterey, CA. 
Day 2  -  Drive up to San Francisco and spend the day visiting there. 
Day 3 -   Drive home to Sacramento. 
Problems on the road:
There was a problem with the wire or fuse connections at the fuse box.  Allan told me after their trip that they lost brake lights, fuel gauge and turn signals and the car's ignition seemed to shut of momentarily on them twice while at speed.  When they pulled over to check it out, the car wouldn't restart.  After giggling the wires at the fuse box it fire right back up and everything was working again.
Allan also said it use a little oil and the oil level had dropped from just above the "MAX" mark, to just below. 
That's a pretty good report for buying a car and taking on a road trip of that size.  I'm alittle embarrassed about the electrical problem.  I hadn't done any work on the fuse box, or even cleaned the connections.  Although I'd been driving the car daily since December and not had a problem with it, it would have been a good idea to give the fuse box some attention.  In the future, I definately will make this a standard proceedure.
At the risk of getting corny, I just wanted to share some compliments from people who have had a chance to see and drive the car since Kirsten brought it home.  It's just great to see people enjoying Americas again.  There enthusiasm will keep the cars on the road for many years to come!
I just wanted to tell you how delighted I was to see and drive the blue
Austin you sold Kirstin and Allan. It was so smooth, powerful and
comfortable I sobbed over selling my old one (though it is in a better
happier place and Chris and Diane care for it very nicely).

Cheers to you, I never cease to be amazed at how meticulous, precise
and detailed you are.
Many Cheers,
Dude- that is one nice driving Austin!
I am totally impressed!  ..... Boy- when can you do Minty? It's so nice!
It drives like new!


A happy new owner
Kirsten prepares to embark on the long drive home